Hearing on ‘€50m’ legal bill postponed

A CRUCIAL hearing of the Flood Tribunal to decide how much of an estimated €50 million-plus legal bill must be picked up by those who have obstructed the inquiry has been postponed again.

Today’s scheduled hearing has been called off due to the illness of tribunal chairman Mr Justice Feargus Flood.

It had already been postponed a week earlier because of difficulties over legal costs.

Lawyers for former minister Ray Burke are set to claim he had reached agreement with the tribunal that his legal costs would be paid for in return for his co-operation with the inquiry.

However, tribunal lawyers will argue the State should not be liable for a large proportion of Mr Burke’s legal costs, which could total over €5m, as the inquiry ruled he had hindered and obstructed its work.

They are expected to claim hearings would have taken much less time if Mr Burke had provided complete co-operation from the outset of the inquiry, which was established in 1997.

The tribunal’s own legal and administration costs for up to the summer of 2002 amount to around €25m. However, it is believed the final sum when the legal costs of other witnesses are included will reach around €50m.

The second interim report of the Flood Tribunal ruled last September that Mr Burke had received corrupt payments totalling over £225,000 during the 1980s. It also stated he had acted in the interests of donors in the performance of his public duties.

Mr Justice Flood concluded the former Dublin North FF TD had also obstructed and hindered the work of the inquiry in relation to 14 separate issues.

These included the acquisition of his former home, Briargate in Swords, his offshore financial accounts, his dealings with Century Radio and his relationship with millionaire property developers Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan.

Under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, any party who fails to co-operate with the inquiry can be liable for the tribunal’s legal costs as well as their own.

Mr Burke had legal representation comprising one senior counsel, one junior barrister and solicitor for most of the 313 days the tribunal sat to investigate his past dealings. Senior counsel for the tribunal receive €2,500 per day, while lawyers from top law firms charge up to €500 per hour. After five years of detailed work, the tribunal concluded several large payments received by the former minister, including £160,000 from Brennan and McGowan, £35,000 from Century Radio chairman Oliver Barry and £30,000 from Santry-based engineering firm JMSE, were corrupt.

An undetermined sum paid by builder Tom Bailey to Mr Burke in the TD’s home in June 1989 was also deemed corrupt.

Mr Brennan and Mr McGowan were also accused of colluding with Mr Burke over their evidence to provide a false account about the source of their payments to the politician. The developers’ close business associate, well-known estate agent John Finnegan, also provided untruthful evidence as well as failing to make proper discovery of documents.

The tribunal was satisfied Mr Bailey, his brother Tom, his wife Caroline and JMSE executives Joseph Murphy Jr, his late father Joseph Sr, Roger Copsey, Frank Reynolds, Tim O’Keeffe and John Bates obstructed and hindered its work.

It also accused former government press secretary P J Mara, Brennan and McGowan’s solicitor John Caldwell and their accountant Hugh Owens of failing to co-operate with the inquiry.

All the parties could also still face a criminal prosecution. Under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act 1979, anyone convicted of such an offence can receive a two-year jail term and/or a maximum fine of €12,700. It is understood the DPP has still to decide whether prosecutions should follow from the tribunal report.

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